Current Limits of U.S.-Israel Security Cooperation

March 11, 2013 12:01 am 1 comment

President George W. Bush of United States (center) discusses the Middle East peace process with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel (left) and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, 2003.

This article by Shoshana Bryen was originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

Shared values and democratic systems count for a lot in the political world — and they can advance military cooperation — but national security interests can evolve without them. No one would mistake Saudi Arabia or Bahrain for a country that shares American values, yet the U.S. Central Command works closely and cooperatively with both.

Israel shares American values in many ways, but a shared security outlook is something else, hinging on threat perceptions that may no longer be coincident.

Vice President Biden took to the stage at AIPAC this week to promote U.S.-Israel security relations. His emphasis on American support for Israel’s missile defense program is the coin of the realm – first because it is true and second because Israel’s enemies have missiles.

But security relations have undergone a subtle, negative change in the past four years.

The Obama administration has been willing to be Israel’s protector, patron to a client, or parent to a child. This patronizing attitude is reflected in the President’s assertion that Israel’s democratically elected leaders “don’t know what’s in their own best interest” and Vice President Biden’s comment that President Obama wants to hear from “regular Israelis” on his upcoming trip, suggesting that what he hears from Prime Minister Netanyahu would be disputed by Israel’s citizenry. The administration is less willing to be Israel’s partner in addressing common threats, including terrorism and the rise of radical Islam. And there has been a limit to consultation and cooperation on Iran. On occasion, the U.S. adds to Israel’s problems by allowing Israel to bear the brunt of the world’s disapprobation at the UN.

The History

Israel’s first strategic allies were France and Great Britain. The U.S. was sympathetic to Israel’s plight as small and vulnerable to threats from combinations of Arab states, but except for a desire not to have socialist Israel in the pro-Soviet camp and the 1956 Eisenhower outburst, the U.S. was uninvolved in Israeli security. President Johnson declined to be of assistance to Israel in the Six Day War.

Presidents Nixon and Reagan saw Israel in the Cold War context. Nixon stood with Israel as a defensive measure against the Soviet Union in 1973. Reagan opened “strategic cooperation” as a forward step in a plan to defeat the USSR. His idea of ballistic missile defenses was matched by Israeli innovation in the field; the result was tremendous advancement and in-depth cooperation.

At the end of the Cold War, President Clinton called for “capabilities based” defense to cover contingencies rather than specific enemies. Israel was well placed to continue to work with the United States and provide technological capabilities and test beds. Israel established warm relations with some of the newest NATO members, Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as with Bulgaria and Romania.

After 9-11, President Bush’s formulation of a “war against terrorists and the states that harbor and support them” resonated fully with Israel, and there was increased closeness and cooperation on perceived regional threats. But congruity of interests is never total. When American and Israeli positions on Iran diverged (about 2007), President Bush refused Israel weapons that could be used against Iran.

The Present

When the Obama Administration redefined the wars in which the United States is engaged, the words “Islamic” or “Muslim” terrorism and radical Islam were shelved in favor of more neutral appellations. In his Cairo address, President Obama sought to establish “mutual respect” between the West and the “Muslim world,” and he accepted the view that policies of the West were partly responsible for the antagonism of Muslims toward the United States. He called Israel’s independence a response to the Holocaust — a charge that fed into the Arab complaint that Israel was foisted on the region by guilty Europeans rather than by being a legitimate and permanent part of the region.

Without commenting on the approach itself, it should be noted that the independence of and continuing support for Israel is, by the definition of its enemies, part of what the West did and does that creates antagonism in the “Muslim world.” And for those who believe, as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said, that terrorists are created as a reaction to Western provocation, support for Israel is precisely such a provocation.

In terms of military cooperation, then, the President’s formulation reduced the ability of Israel to have equal stature with the United States in a regional mission.

The United States in the United Nations

At the outset, the Obama administration made it clear that the United Nations would be its preferred venue for diplomacy. In contrast to the Bush administration, the U.S. rejoined the UN Human Rights Commission and the UN Alliance of Civilizations, an openly anti-Israel body which claimed in 2006 that global tensions were driven primarily by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and referred to the September 11th attacks as resulting from “a perception among Muslim societies of unjust aggression stemming from the West.”

It was in the Alliance of Civilizations that Turkey’s Prime Minister last week lumped Zionism with “Islamophobia” and anti-Semitism as racist doctrines and “war crimes.”

In the UN Security Council, the U.S. declined to support Canada’s traditional, once-a-decade bid for a seat. Canada, an outspoken supporter of Israel, lost to Portugal, a stalwart representative of EU ambivalence. The U.S. voted against the infamous “Goldstone Report,” but declined to use its influence to encourage others to do the same. The administration demanded a “total settlement freeze” from Israel and allowed Israeli policies to be denounced in the fiercest terms in the Security Council before exercising its veto. The U.S. brokered a Security Council “compromise” that allowed Israel to be criticized along with Syria.

The administration accepted the 2010 UN Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review that singled out Israel for condemnation – despite public statements that it would never do that.

Bilateral Cooperation while Preserving Distance

There has been an increase in Ballistic Missile Defense cooperation, which is good for Israel: its enemies have missiles. But it represents a completely defensive option. The administration is comfortable with the idea of defending Israel, but by putting Israel in the position of the “defense client” it was until 1980, rather than by enhancing its status as a “partner” in mutual defense — this is not a step forward.

Further, defense is irrelevant until after an attack. Any thought Israel has about protecting its citizens through pre-emptive measures is not covered. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress, “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israelis] choose to do it [attack Iran's nuclear program].” That remark must have greatly comforted Iran.

Austere Challenge, a once-cancelled U.S.-Israel missile defense exercise, did go forward at the end of 2012, but in a scaled back mode, most likely to reassure Iran that it was not cover for any offensive activity. In case this dodge was not clear, Gen. Craig Franklin, Commander of U.S. Third Air Force, repeated that point several times in a single interview before the exercise: “It’s purely to provide defensive capabilities with Israel. … This exercise doesn’t look at any particular threat, it looks at a threat scenario that is notional. … This is a military exercise not tied to any particular recent world event, it’s just a notional exercise. … As I mentioned, this is not related to any particular recent world event.”

While missile defense cooperation continues, the Obama administration has taken overt steps to tell the Arab and Muslim world that the U.S. is severable from Israel. The NATO-related air rescue operation Anatolian Eagle was canceled because Turkey would not let Israel participate. Last May, the Administration held Eager Lion 2012, a Special Operations exercise with 19 Arab and Muslim countries, including Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan.

The tactics and training of Special Operations is an important component of Israel’s “qualitative military edge.” How much of what the U.S. and Israel developed over the years was shared with countries overtly hostile to Israel? Israel was not invited to the May 2012 NATO confab, although 13 NATO “partner nations” were invited to discuss terrorism. Two other US-organized and -led multilateral counterterrorism confabs excluded Israel as well.

When Turkey objected to the sharing of intelligence information with Israel, Secretary of Defense Panetta said no NATO radar intelligence would be shared “outside of NATO.” Secretary Hagel is unlikely to share what Secretary Panetta would not.

Cooperation in the Future

The U.S. and Israel continue to share values across the board, share capabilities in certain areas and to acknowledge common threats. President Obama’s visit to Israel later in the month would be an opportune time to think about how to end the current patron-client relationship and restore Israel’s position as a security partner to the United States.

This article by Shoshana Bryen was originally published by the Gatestone Institute.

1 Comment

  • President to the European Parliament today, 3/12/13:
    “Israel was born from the ashes at the end of the Second World War.”
    How is it that Peres can say it, and no Gentile (Obama) can?

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Personalities How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    How a Jewish Leader With 3 Months to Live Created a ‘Seminar’ on Life

    JNS.org – What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a successful businessman, a leader of Jewish life, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer metastasized to his liver, and that he had [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater 10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    10 Things I Learned From My Play About Holocaust Denial

    Last month, my one-man show Hoaxocaust! Written and performed by Barry Levey with the generous assistance of the Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran ran in the New York International Fringe Festival, where it won an Overall Excellence Award. The play has now been selected to run in the Fringe Encores Series at Baruch College’s Performing Arts Center, for four performances which started on Thursday, September 11. Getting the play to the stage was not easy, however. Here are [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Israeli Music Producer Racks Up Over 535,000 YouTube Hits – in Two Days

    Phenomenon: Tel Aviv-based musician and “sampler” extraordinaire, Kutiman (aka Ophir Kutiel) has hit another one out of the park with “Give It Up,” a fully-functioning song in its own right, assembled from hundreds of ameteur and instructional music videos. The Jerusalem-born musical prodigy is best know for his diverse online musical projects. In the latest video, uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 12th, Kutiel thanked most of the musicians and individuals he chose to include in the meticulously-edited clip, which opens with [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    Behind-the-Scenes Reel of Ridley Scott’s Moses Epic Shows Scenes Using 4000 Extras (VIDEO)

    A recently released behind-the-scenes reel of Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Exodus: Gods and Kings shows just how far the director has gone to portray one of the Bible’s most famous narratives. In the clip, which shows scenes involving up to 4,000 extras, the visionary director discusses what drew him to the biblical tale of Moses. “The Moses story was a massive challenge, which I really love. I wanted to explore the complexity of his character and I was stunned by [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    Turner Classic Movies Showcases ‘Broad Sweep’ of the Jewish Experience on Film

    JNS.org – Since 2006, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable and satellite TV network has hosted “The Projected Image,” a month-long showcase examining how different cultural and ethnic groups have been portrayed on the big screen. At last, after previously covering African Americans, Asians, the LGBT community, Latinos, Native Americans, Arabs, and people with disabilities, the annual series is delving into Jewish film this month. “The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film,” whose first segment aired Sept. 2, runs [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    An Inside Look at the Hasidim (REVIEW)

    The sight of young girls in pinafores and young boys wearing peyos – sidelocks – dangling over their ears is a sure sign that you have entered the enigmatic precincts of the Hasidim – the pious ones. Veteran New York Times journalist Joseph Berger’s new book, THE PIOUS ONES: The World of Hasidim and their Battles with America, takes the reader on a journey into the enclaves where various sects of Jews live a seemingly outmoded way of life in [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.